We’ve not been real big on reservations thus far in our near 7 years on the road. But Florida, the northeast, and now the northwest are demonstrating that we may need to start relying more on reservations. The northeast and northwest have such short recreational seasons that we are finding it harder and harder to just show up and find space for Rosie the bus pretty much any time we like. So, we plotted out our course towards Anacortes, WA, location for our next meet up with friends Bud and Meredith, and the Butte KOA was next up on our list. This was a return trip for us, nothing new to see in the big town of Butte, but we stayed 3 days anyway. The KOA is kinda run down; grass dead, trees/shrubs needing the services of a “barber”, and interior dirt roads tight in some spots. It fits right in with the town of Butte, Butte being kind of an ugly, dirty little town. We did manage to find a Costco in Helena, about an hour’s drive away, so we took advantage and stocked up on supplies.
Butte in our rear-view mirrors, it was on to Missoula where we decided to stay at the Gray Wolf Peak Casino just north of town. They have 50A E with a communal water spout for 8 RV sites. They charge $20/night, but if you get one of their player’s cards they waive the $20 fee. Wow, since I have quite a collection of casino player’s cards already started, “Where do I sign up?!” We stayed 2 nights here and ended up relieving the casino of a few hundred dollars making it well worth our while. Montana has a strange casino system, to say the least. They have “casinos” at every street corner it seems. These are small buildings/businesses that are basically a bar with a few dozen slot machines. No card games. No table games. Just slots. Gray Wolf Peak is an actual Indian casino, quite larger than most Montana casinos with restaurant, bar, hundreds of slots, but this one differs from most Indian casinos in that it has no card games or table games either, just slots. We had a good time anyway.
Next on our itinerary was Haugan, MT and a place called Lincoln’s 50,000 Silver $. They have a dirt RV lot behind the business with 30/50A pedestals scattered around and a communal water spout for RV’s, and it is free for short term stays. Lincoln’s 50,000 Silver $ is an unabashed tourist trap of a business which touts itself as having Montana’s largest souvenir shop. There is a restaurant and bar, as well as a detached hotel and the RV lot. The bar has the walls covered with silver dollars mounted in boards, with an ongoing count total of over 75,000 of them. The restaurant is unremarkable and well not worth your time, effort, or gastric discomfort. And the “casino” consists of about a couple dozen slot machines only. The gift shop offers a strange mix of merchandise; some of the normal clothing, jewelry, knick-knacks, art, wall hangings, plus a variety of weaponry from knives to swords to battle axes to blowguns, metal “gladiator” style helmets, coins & silver, oh, and all the dope pipes you could ever want. The clerk tells me weed is not recreationally legal in Montana, only legal for medical purposes.
The main reason for our stay here was the Hiawatha Trail (RideTheHiawatha.com), a stretch of the old Milwaukee Railroad line converted for bicycling/hiking. Our friends Stacy and Jim Camara turned us onto this bicycle trail which meanders through the mountains of MT/ID border. It is considered the Crown Jewel of the nation’s Rail to Trail system and covers 15 miles with (10) tunnels and (7) high steel trestles, plus all the scenery you can handle. The St. Paul/Taft Pass tunnel is 1.66 pitch-black miles long and would definitely be a rough go without the required lighting instrument of your choice. The bonus here is that from the East portal trailhead to the Pearson trailhead (that covers 15 miles) it is about a 1.6% downhill grade. You can choose to do the round trip (the downhill half took us a little over 2 1/2 hours), or you can catch the shuttle bus back to the top. We did not have the time (Woody back in the bus) for the round tripper, so shuttle it was. You need to pay a fee of $12/person to use the trail, a booth is set up at the trailhead. The shuttle use is an additional $10/person. Even on a hot day, you may want to consider carrying a sweatshirt with you, the longer tunnels are a bit on the chilly side. The trail is gravel but plenty wide and in few places is a shared-use road with vehicles. Thank you, Stacy and Jim, it was a good time.
Bikes packed up, it was hasta luego to Haugan and onward to the Coeur d’Alene Elks Lodge for a 5 day stint. Unfortunately for us, parts of Idaho were experiencing wildfires northeast of us, so we got to enjoy the smoky skies that we miss oh so much from the past couple of years in the west. We used the 5 days to get chores done (had to perform that rare task of hunting down a laundromat for laundry), but we did squeeze in time to walk around the downtown/marina area and also take in the Kootenai County Farmer’s Market.
Jeanne discovered a special event at the Mad Bomber Brewing Co. They do occasional collaboration with local first responders to create original recipes and subsequent brewings, and one night they were having a release party for the latest brew, on behalf of the Kootenai County Deputy Sheriff Association, appropriately named KCSDA IPA. Live entertainment included a young man named Jacob Maxwell who I’m told was on a TV show called “The Voice”. The Mad Bomber Brewing Co. is a rather unique establishment. It was started by some EOD Army soldiers after their return from deployment and is extremely patriotic, pro-military, pro-first responders. It definitely packed ‘em in on the night we were there. God bless America!
Moving day took us to the Wenatchee River County Park for a 3 day stint. This was a fairly nice park alongside the Wenatchee River. It was, however, a bit noisy since it sits between Hwy. 2 and a very active railroad track (I particularly enjoyed the 2 train runs between 0300-0330 hrs…NOT!). We took advantage of this stop to give the bicycles another workout and ran a stretch of the Apple Capital Recreational Loop Trail (about 12 miles worth anyway). It was a fairly scenic ride through the Wenatchee Confluence State Park and along both the Wenatchee River and the Columbia River.
We wanted to give Woody some outdoor time so we loaded him up and headed into the tourist trap town of Leavenworth, WA. There they have a trail that runs through the Waterfront Park, Blackbird Island, and Enchantment Park alongside the Wenatchee River. Once finished with the trail, we headed back to the bus, planning to return later to play tourista in Leavenworth without the burden of having Woody along.
Wenatchee has a Public Market, similar to the one we went to in Napa, CA, which is all enclosed like an indoor mall. When we went to check it out, it turned out to be a lot smaller affair than the one in Napa. We strolled through the market, Jeanne sampled some balsamic vinegars and we sampled some brews from the Wenatchee Valley Brewing Co.
The park we were in did not have space for us to extend our stay, so we moved about 5 miles down the road to the Chelan County Expo & Fairgrounds where they run an open lot with FHU’s for RV’s. Once we were moved in, we went ‘splorin’ in the big city of Cashmere. It is a dumpy little nothing of a town, many business buildings empty, home to Aplets & Cotlets, an apple confection manufacturing business and Crunch Pak, an apple processing plant. We wandered the “downtown” area, then found our way over to the Milepost 111 Brewing Co. to sample some of their wares. They brew a McC’s Irish Red that was OK, not outstanding, but palatable.
Woody wanted to do some more outdoor time, so we loaded him up again and headed outside of Leavenworth to find the Icicle Gorge Trail. It was a 5-mile loop trail alongside Icicle Creek with some very nice scenery. Woody took it like a champ the whole way. His attention was continually drawn to the many chipmunks we saw along the way…
Once we finished the hike, we returned Woody to the bus, cleaned up, then made our return to Leavenworth to check out the town. Back in the 1960’s in an effort to increase tourism to the area, the whole town transformed itself into a Bavarian themed city. It was miserable to find parking anywhere, we ended up circling around through town a couple times before we found one parking spot far on the outskirts. We started with lunch at a place called Munchen Haus which we found on Yelp. With 1,073 reviews and a 4 1/2 out of 5 star rating, how could we go wrong? Well, the food was unremarkable, felt like eating a brat at the ball game. However they did serve what is called a German chocolate cake ale called Dark Persuasion that was pretty tasty. Gotta like the hint of coconut…The wait in line here was not worth the payoff. And they allow dogs in the seating patio area which it seemed EVERYONE took advantage of, not my choice for dining companions… The shops in town were touristy and crowded on the Friday that we were there. All in all, Leavenworth, WA would not be our choice as a vacation destination.
Our grand finale while in the area was another hike on a Rails to Trails participating trail, this one called the Iron Goat Trail, about 50 miles west of Leavenworth. This trail runs a section of the old Great Northern Railway, built in 1893-ish (abandoned in 1929), as a means of transportation between St. Paul, MN, and Seattle, WA. We loaded Woodrow Wilson up and drove out to the trailhead in Scenic. The main trail is about a 7-mile loop, with a 3-mile tag into Wellington to the east and a much shorter spur into the Martin Creek trailhead at the west end. We chose the main loop out of Scenic. A suggestion for anyone choosing to do this hike out of Scenic. Do the loop clockwise. It starts through the lower section, then loops up to the upper section and finishes off with a mile long set of steep, downhill switchbacks. Counter-clockwise however starts one off doing the steep, uphill switchbacks first, which may turn out to be a severe quad/ham-burner, with the greater part of 6+ miles still to finish the loop. The trail is very scenic, at times looks sort of like rain forest, with several train tunnels and what’s left of the snow sheds that were built back then to cover sections of track as avalanche protection. A big caution to hikers on the lower trail section-stinging nettles are everywhere and at times the trail can be a little skinny-wear long pants and long sleeves. On the upper trail it was harder to find nettles. Otherwise, the trail was easy to follow, albeit a bit overgrown in some areas. We were on constant critter watch and although we saw none of the usual suspects (bears, elk, moose, deer, etc.), at least we did not get skunked-an owl was sort of stalking us, licking his chops as he caught sight of Woodrow Wilson.
Well, that will catch us up for now. Moving day tomorrow, onward and upward toward the Anacortes, WA area. Until next post…